Dream speech word salad memories

Seemingly random sequences of words can seem humorous or poetic. Often, of course, they are not random at all, but merely products of language error by non-native speakers, as in this photo taken by the author in Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, in 2009. Though the image essentially documents bad English grammar on a storefront—it also embodies the spirit of the author’s experience of language-based dreams.

Seemingly random sequences of words can seem humorous or poetic. Often, of course, they are not random at all, but merely products of language error by non-native speakers, as in this photo taken by the author in Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, in 2009. Though the image essentially documents bad English grammar on a storefront—it also embodies the spirit of the author’s experience of language-based dreams.

Keep your letter hands numb.

Oferując wytrwałe kotły monopobielu zieleni.

My guy is more shemuai in the shemshai sen sense.

Wielki niewiadom kapitan jabłek.

About one decade ago I noticed an intriguing and satisfying occurrence that sometimes presented as I was waking from sleep: a deliberate and coherent string of words and a sense of their tremendous significance. I don’t mean words spoken or heard in the context of a dream. Rather, these words were the dream. Very rarely, I would manage to remember this snippet of language long enough to be able to write it down—and it was only after the memory itself was gone (minutes, hours, years later) that I could study the proof of the memory, scrawled by my confused, sleepy hand, and unequivocally confirm that the words had not been coherent at all. Just synapses firing on autopilot, running their maintenance software.

I began to suspect that this curious edge-of-consciousness phenomenon was in fact a near-daily dose of overwhelming intellectual pleasure, almost instantly forgotten. The barriers to documenting my experience were of course largely environmental—no pen and paper next to the bed, no time to study the subconscious before the morning rush. But a key barrier was also built into the experience itself: as these linguistic dream sequences unfolded, they seemed clear and ubiquitous. What’s the point of writing down something that seems important, vivid and as plain as day?

Lately I’ve become more diligent about keeping a pencil and pad by my bedside, and I’ve been able to collect enough material to attempt a preliminary analysis of these dreamed wordstrings I sometimes experience. I’ve noted that the syntactic operations are always in Polish or English, never in a mix of the two. The morphological phenomena mostly obey the lexical rules governing Polish and English word formation, but there are occasional surprises of mysterious structures with mystery etymologies.

I’ve also discovered that there is a psychiatric condition or symptom called schizophasia (less formally and more widely known as word salad), which describes a similar linguistic occurrence in the lucid mind. It is typically a symptom of mental disorders associated with manic and psychotic states or various aphasias. In dreams, however, it is a perfectly normal if somewhat rare sub-type of dreaming, and it is then simply referred to as dream speech.

Above are some of the dream speech examples I was able to record over the years. (There are more, but I’ve used bits of many of them as my online passwords, for the way they manage to combine both the desired randomness and that irresistible personalized sentimentality that usually gives most passwords away. And should you be alarmed that these password formants are recorded in writing—trust me, there’s not a pair of eyes but my own that is going to figure out just what it was I scratched onto paper in my sleep on some random day.)

A final note: I realize the post title may seem a lot like an instance of word salad, too, but it’s really just a complex noun phrase denoting with dry precision the subject of the post.

Oishii

Increasingly frequent and, with so much practice, increasingly easy—our homemade washoku dinners have also become a kind of comfort food, no longer exotic and unexpected but rather familiar, nourishing and typical of home.

Oh, and oishii means delicious.

All photos by Natalia Osiatynska, taken in September, October and November, 2014, in the author’s Warsaw home.

Overcast

The sunshine is way too loud, someone once said to me.

Bright-yellow days may be more popular, but I find them distracting, exhausting and blinding—especially on a day when I want to engage in some quiet concentration (which is almost every day). It is likely that my eyes are sensitive to the light, exhibiting a mild form of a condition known as photophobia. It is also the case that I am easily overwhelmed by all kinds of sensory input—noise, music, fragrance, pinching zippers, unwanted flavors, and of course too much light. In the absence of such stimuli I relax and find myself better able to focus. Sometimes, I am also not in the mood to leave the house. And when it’s overcast—or outright raining—it’s simply less of a travesty to stay home and bake things and make origami or edit photos* or watch a favorite crime drama.

A perfectly quiet photo in defense of grey skies, taken in Warsaw by Natalia Osiatynska on 2014/11/10 with the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT fitted with the Canon L 200mm/f2.8 lens.

*Note that there is actually a very interesting vision-impairing phenomenon called simultaneous contrast, which works on the same basic principle that’s responsible for a slew of neat optical illusions, with colors affecting the perception of the hues and values of neighboring colors. It’s why graphic designers and photo retouchers often choose to work in pale gray environments—and why they often do their best work on pale grey days.

444?

Self-portrait without glasses, taken two weeks before the author’s 37th birthday with the Leica M 240.

Self-portrait with glasses, taken two weeks before the author’s 37th birthday with the Leica M 240.

Today was my thirty-seventh birthday, and what made it special was that it actually wasn’t (all that special, I guess), but that this was really okay.

And you know what else? I kind of hate odd numbers, and especially prime numbers. I like the sort of numbers you can arrange into clean grids of columns and rows—numbers with fours and eights in them, powers of two, that kind of thing. So naturally I just hated 37, not for being close to forty (because actually I have no problem with that at all) but for being such a graceless amount, made up of digits I dislike. Luckily it occurred to me to calculate the number of months in 37 years. It is, in fact 444 months. Imagine that! For my thirty-seventh birthday I got to celebrate turning four-hundred and forty-four!

The Leica M (Typ 240)

Since adding the X1 to my photographer’s kit in 2010, I’ve been enjoying the benefits that come with Leica ownership: free Lightroom software, members’ club opportunities and impeccable service. While great, ultimately these perks have also been expected, because one is used to steady excellence from any luxury goods producer with class. But last month I was stunned to receive an invitation to test drive the new Leica M (Typ 240) digital rangefinder, with instructions to contact my nearest Leica dealer about setting up a demo. Hours to shoot? Away from the store? Now that’s something I wasn’t expecting. A rare sense of privilege and delicious bewilderment accompanied all of my dealings with the personable staff at Warsaw’s Mysia location, and last Thursday I checked out a camera and two lenses worth more than a modest new car. And not for hours. For days. Specifically—until the Saturday two days later.

If you’re looking for a proper technical review, keep clicking because mine will be brief. (If even brief technical reviews bore you—skip ahead to the next paragraph.) The 680g magnesium alloy body felt heavy and I found it tough to turn for verticals, though this tells me nothing about how I’d respond to the weight and shape in some time. Despite its obvious digital attributes, the 240 felt and sounded very much like a precision instrument from an era before electronics. The analog viewfinder elicited both wonder and frustration, the latter especially in low light and low-contrast conditions. More than once, I missed the ability to fall back on autofocus. (Unfortunately, I didn’t learn about the potentially useful focus aid overlay function until after my demo.) The lenses I tested were the Elmarit 90/2.8 and the Summicron 35/2.0. Both amazed me, and they seemed to be the perfect pair if I were to settle for two. (Note that the Typ 240 is a rare digital camera equipped with a full-frame sensor, so the indicated focal lengths are classically true to size.) As nice as it was to deploy an actual focusing ring, remembering to adjust aperture on the lens posed the occasional challenge. In fact, I didn’t always remember to stop up or down in the first place: with so many features vying for my attention, my basic ability to compose shots was compromised. Fortunately, there was enough crossover with the X1 for the controls and menus to feel roughly familiar. And I was stunned by the RAW file size and its impact on my image processing workflow: with 24 megapixels and a colossal 48 megabytes, my Lightroom was as slow-loading as it had been with the 8 MP / 9 MB Canon files and the 12 MP / 18 MB X1 files on a previous computer running a relic of a system.

Many of my impressions had less to do with the camera’s capabilities and more with the insight I gained into the experience of taking part in this kind of product evaluation. Yes, I was a potential buyer, and yes, the demo was perhaps a plain attempt to sell me a camera. Yet something about it all felt entirely different from the usual sales-pitchy, predictable marketing. Between the phrasing of the invitation and the coolheaded enthusiasm of the Leica Store staff, this was a genuine, passion-driven, photography-centric adventure, devoid of any overt pressure to get me to buy anything. (It could of course be argued that so behaves the finest marketing of them all, but if so then I’d argue there’s still a reason not to be cynical about it.)

Now consider the contradictory nature of the assessment itself. After all, here was the best camera I’ve ever shot with, but it was in fact not at all likely to produce my best photos. Indeed, the incontrovertible joy I felt at this great opportunity was at odds with a real sense of performance anxiety. Because yes, I was testing the camera—but the camera was testing me right back.

With that, I think it’s time to let the pictures address both the camera’s potential and the capabilities of the photographer.

Above is a dozen of the seventy photos I deemed worthy of keeping (from among hundreds actually taken during my test drive). All images by Natalia Osiatynska, captured in RAW format in 2014 with the Leica M 240, on loan from Leica Store Warszawa, and subsequently processed in Lightroom as noted. Most images shown have been minimally corrected for tone and color—and many have been not-so-minimally cropped and adjusted for perspective. Note, however, the one I’m including “as shot,” with no editing of any kind at all: the bokeh-rich autumnal view through the lime trees up at the clear sky. And you know what? It might even be my favorite.